Every so often a film is released that causes both critics and audiences to become besotted with praise. Such films are compared to Citizen Kane, and are predicted to sweep the Oscars. The last time such a furor erupted it was for Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Joaquin Phoenix. I hated it.
Now comes Boyhood from director Richard Linklater. I didn’t hate it, but can’t really get on the effusive bandwagon that is sweeping the film going community. The conceit, or “gimmick” if you will, used in the making of Boyhood is that Linklater filmed it over a twelve-year period with the same cast, so that the characters age along with their story. Eller Coltrane plays Mason, a typical five-year-old in the beginning, and a teenager by the end. Linklater’s real-life daughter Lorelei is Samantha, Mason’s older sister. It’s intriguing to follow along as these two grow up before our eyes and to know that it’s done for real, not with smoke and mirrors and make-up. You’ll probably also find yourself trying to spot the points in the film where the characters are entering another chapter in their life’s story.
Linklater regular Ethan Hawke, who starred in Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight, essays the dad. He and mom, Patricia Arquette, are divorced, and as the film opens, dad has been fairly absent from his kids’ lives. Hawke has some moments of sheer screen brilliance. The two kids pull off amazing performances that will certainly enhance their careers. And Marco Perilla, as Arquette’s second husband, does an outstanding job. The rest of the peripheral characters are just that, with very little to do.
Given the logistics that go into making such a tale, it can certainly be called “fearless filmmaking.” After all, if some tragedy had befallen one of the cast members during that twelve-year period the whole project would likely remain unfinished. The cast and crew are to be commended for their participation in such an unorthodox filmmaking venture.
But there’s something missing. In trying to cover so much ground in just a few minutes short of three hours, it feels as if there are gaps involving secondary characters, and a lack of connection between actors and audience. It almost has the feel of an episodic documentary, such as the groundbreaking PBS series An American Family in the seventies. Although Boyhood is what people term “leisurely paced,” it’s not boring, but it is at times hard to stick with. And after a while, it begins to feel repetitive. Maybe it’s just me, and you may find yourself in the cheering section along with most critics and viewers. I’m not sorry I saw it, but it’s certainly not the next Citizen Kane.
The R-rated Boyhood is now showing at the Esquire and Kenwood Theatres, and at AMC Newport on the Levee.